Saturday, September 25, 2010

The End?

With a great deal of sadness I have decided to discontinue Prague Jazz, for now at least.

This is in no way because of a lapse in enthusiasm for the music of this great city. My love of the music is as strong as before, and you will still see me around at the front tables of Prague's clubs, enjoying the world-class jazz that is on offer.

However the world moves on around music, and changes in my personal and work lives have left me without the time or the energy to meaningfully continue the website. It is a labour of love, and while labours of love are tremendously satisfying they do not pay the mortgage or secure a pension.

If there is anybody out there who wishes to continue the work I have started here then please get in touch. I will leave the website up so that new visitors who are interested in the Prague jazz scene can read my thoughts. Of course I am always ready to talk Czech jazz with anyone out there, so please don't be strangers.

Last of all, my deep and sincere thanks to the people on the scene who have helped me so much with support both moral and practical. Their kindness and their willingness to accept me into their world was truly touching. They made the experience so much more than I ever hoped it could be. My friends, thank you.

You will never know how much it meant.

You will will never know how much it still means.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Live in Vienna - U.S. Distribution

Our American readers will be happy to discover that Emil Viklický's excellent Live in Vienna album is available via the Blue Horse Trading Company. Blue Horse Trading is currently the exclusive U.S. distributor of this and other Cube-Metier releases. Follow the link to order your copy today!

Monday, April 19, 2010

News: Ondřej Pivec on Tour

Hammond organ player Ondřej Pivec is touring the Czech Republic this spring. This tour is a rare chance to see the talented young jazzer: at the moment he spends a lot of time in NYC. Catch him if you can!

News: Lynne Arriale in Prague

Pianist Lynne Arriale will be visiting Prague during her latest tour. Her current band includes bassist George Mraz, one of the most internationally famous musicians to come from the former Czechoslovakia. They will play at the Divadlo u hasičů on 5/5/10.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

News: John Abercrombie in the Prague Post

Guitarist John Abercrombie talks about his upcoming Prague gig in the Prague Post. You can read the article here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Gig Review: Face of the Bass

Jazz Dock
30th March 2010

In February Prague Jazz reviewed Little Things, the Jaromír Honzák Quintet album that was subsequently announced as the winner of the Czech Jazz Society's “album of 2009” poll. As well as working with this outfit Honzák also performs with a less conventional band, Face of the Bass. On their website they describe themselves as being “Jungle/Experimental/Freestyle”. Quite what the rainforest and a swimming technique have to do with jazz is a mystery to us at PJHQ, but we are willing to take a chance with “experimental” when at least one of the band (Honzák) is a known quantity. He is a musician of talent and taste, and therefore unlikely to be involved with something too insane.

Face of the Bass is a quartet comprised of Honzák on acoustic (but heavily amplified) upright bass, Marcel Bárta on bass clarinet and soprano saxophone, Michal Nejtek on piano and keyboards, and Roman Vícha on drums and associated acoustic and electronic devices. Between them they create a highly expressive sound that is not totally free but often steps away from simple song structures. It is definitely music (as opposed to “performance art”), but music of an intense and demanding nature.

It was Bárta who dominated the stage, standing at the front and regularly swapping between his two instruments. Soprano saxophones are not uncommon in Prague jazz clubs but a bass clarinet is a rarer beast. As well as being visually striking it emits pleasingly rich dark tones. The two different voices provided an attention-grabbing contrast and kept his contributions interesting.

Bárta seemingly has two modes of playing. Often he would be standing quite still at the start of a piece, as though feeling his way into the music, emitting drones or alternating honks and parps. And then, like a man possessed by the spirit at a religious meeting, he would break into fluid soaring solos, fingers working overtime as they scrabbled to make real the music he envisioned. Once spent he would fall back into rest, leaving the audience genuinely impressed and just a little bit stunned.

Many of the compositions were based around simple patterns that, once established, would be built upon by members of the band. These were underpinned by Vícha, his drumming being sharp and tight. He did very little in the way of solos, but he did sometimes augment his rhythms with electronic samples and beats layered underneath the rest of the music. This technique was used sparingly, almost too much so: the use of electronics is one of the things that gives Face of the Bass a distinctive sound.

More electronic distinctiveness was provided by Michal Nejtek. He did sometimes turn to play Jazz Dock's trademark white grand piano but more often he was working at his own keyboards and samplers, producing a wide range of noises including whirls, whoops, and symphonic sweeps. Again the overt use of electronics integrated successfully with the more conventional instruments and their further application would have been welcome. They are an important part of the act, not just a gimmick or superficial statement.

The poll-winning bassist stayed at the back, casting a shadow of authority over the younger three and nudging the band onwards with his mesmerising sequences and riffs. Unlike the drummer he did take the chance to sprinkle solos liberally over both sets, and he looked like he was genuinely having fun.

Most of the music was pretty hardcore stuff, but there were some gentler moments. The ballad “Mysterious Face” centered around a subdued stepped pattern, and played early in the first set it offered a crumb of hope to those who were finding events a bit tough on their concentration. And then there was “Dancing Queen”. Yes, the ABBA thing. No, I didn't see it coming either. This was late on and performed as a trio, the arrangement having no need for either soprano sax or bass clarinet.

“Dancing Queen” was turned into a perfectly respectable piece of instrumental jazz, including a lovely bass solo that was based strongly on the melody. It was the piano parts that kept it wry, with those distinctive chords recalling disco nights with full clarity. Everyone was smiling, and thankfully there wasn't anyone in the audience confident enough (in the case of non-English speakers) or drunk enough (in the case of us all) to sing along. From there they slammed straight into a bout of futuristic instrumental toughness. I would have been disappointed with anything else.

Face of the Bass are a band that illustrate yet again the vibrancy and innovation of the Prague scene. They are not just trotting out easy-on-the-ear ditties for the tourist trade, and they are not in any way a jazz-by-numbers combo, a pale imitation of masters (both Czech and global) tiredly copied. If you like your jazz experimental, and don't get scared if you can't find a chorus to hang your hat on every five minutes, then you should check them out. The faint of heart, and couples seeking a romantic soundtrack for a first date grope, should perhaps walk on.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

GigTips: April 2010

April marks not only the coming of warmer weather (and Easter tourists) but also the start of Prague Jazz's third year of existence. Thank you to all our readers, both regular and irregular, and of course thank you to the musicians, record companies, club owners, and everyone else who has supported us during the last two years. Now, looking to the future, here's what is going down in April...

There are some good gigs at Jazz Dock this month. Gigs at this club are prone to getting spoiled by idiots who talk too much, but with an audience that is either focused or small they are usually fine. Jazz Dock is hosting the one of the big international gigs of the month with the John Abercrombie Organ Trio playing there on 12/4. Abercrombie is one of the world's great modern jazz guitarists and this is an excellent chance to see him in an intimate setting.

Jazz Dock are starting to have two concerts in one night on some occasions, with the early gig (7 PM) being cheaper than the late gig (10 PM), and there is a discount for combined admission. The best of these coming up is on 21/4 when delightful jazz/folk singer Pavla Milcová is performing first, followed by the Robert Balzar Trio. These two acts are very different, so there will be no risk of tedium, but both are truly excellent.

The AghaRTA Prague Jazz Festival is also hosting some big international names in April, with the gigs taking place at the Lucerna Music Bar. Rudy Linka and Bobo Stenson will be playing there on 12/4 and the John Scofield Jazz Quartet will be dropping by on 27/4. If you fancy some high-energy, hard-edged instrumental music then check out Bozzio/Holdsworth/Levin/Mastelotto on 23/4: prog rockers go jazz!

At AghaRTA Jazz Centrum itself there is lots of good stuff as usual. Lots of fun too, with the resurrected Yandim Band (14, 15/4) and the Rhythm Desperados (25, 26/4). In both cases you can expect seriously good playing with a party atmosphere. It is also worth going there on 27/4 to see the Emil Viklický Trio, and while you are at it you can get a copy of their Live in Vienna album! A new video from one of their recent performances can be found here.

At USP Jazz Lounge in April there are some decent singers that are well worth catching. Miriam Bayle (15/4) and Elena Sonenshine (24/4) are both strong vocalists: there is nothing standard about the way that they sing the standards. Leona Milla (7/4) has a different approach, reworking known pop and soul songs in an emotional and effective way. Finally, if you prefer modern instrumental jazz to the vocal variety, Points (25/4) are one of the rising stars of the scene.

As ever this is just a small selection of what is on offer so do check out the club and artist links in order to get the full schedules. If you go to any of these gigs please let us know what you thought, either on here or via our Facebook page, and please do tell the artists and venues that you saw the gig mentioned on Prague Jazz. Happy listening!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Funky Review From South Africa

It is always good to see Czech jazz artists getting the recognition they deserve from critics worldwide. You can read what the Mail & Guardian, a South African newspaper, says about The Funky Way of Emil Viklický here: Czech the funk

Monday, March 29, 2010

News: Prague Jazz on Facebook

Prague Jazz now has an official page on Facebook. Please feel free to drop by and become a fan to take part in discussions, share thoughts about concerts you have seen, and chat about Czech jazz.

Musicians are more than welcome to post news about upcoming gigs and album releases.

The PJ FB page can be found here.

CD Review: Live In Vienna

Emil Viklický Trio
Cube Metier / MJCD 2945, 2010

Earlier in March pianist Emil Viklický told Prague Jazz that he believes his new Live In Vienna record has more raw energy than any of his Trio's previous live releases. He has a point, and a good one at that.

This album is an explosion of music. Emil's shows are never dull, never lacklustre and never half-hearted, but the one that he played on April 27th 2007 was something special. Live albums never convey the full effect of a gig, as anyone who has ever heard a recording of a concert they attended knows well, and so we can only imagine what it actually sounded like to the audience in Vienna. The rest of us will have to make do with this album: a second best, but a very fine second best.

The band was moving fast. Emil and drummer Laco Tropp had just flown back from America, where they had been gigging and recording with bassist Cleveland Eaton. According to Victor Verney's liner notes this was a journey that their luggage and Laco's cymbals failed to complete, their progress halting at Frankfurt Airport. In Vienna Laco and Emil joined up with regular bassist František Uhlíř, borrowed some cymbals, and went on the attack.

The strident opening of “Father's Blues” (F. Uhlíř) sets the tone for the whole record. There is an aggression in the piano playing that gives it percussive overtones even during the melodic phrases. Tropp trades thunderous exchanges with his travelling companion. Uhlíř plays with his customary refined woody twang throughout, breaking off only to unleash his bow upon the strings for an energetic sawing solo. They don't call him the “Paganini of the Bass” for nothing!

What stands out is how the three musicians are giving their all. There are no lazy moments, no lapses into ordinariness, no times of being merely average. And they can do all this without tripping over each other, without showing off to the detriment of the piece, and without even seeming to think about it.

“A Bird Flew Over” (E. Viklický) and “Highlands, Lowlands” (E. Viklický) are both pieces heavily influenced by Moravian folk tunes. The former starts off with the lilting bitter-sweetness that typifies that type of music but morphs into a rollicking piano-driven blues, a change hinted at in the opening bars but saved until later. Uhlíř plays another tuneful solo, this time eschewing the bow and getting stuck in with his fingers.

It is “Highlands, Lowlands” where the extra energy in this recording is located in greatest concentration. This piece will be familiar to everyone who has seen Emil's Trio live over the last few years. Its cascading depiction of the hills and the valleys is one of the most memorable moments of their shows. This incarnation still has the same melodies, but in jagged and rocky form. Initially it sounds like a pretty normal version, but the improvised section takes on a whole new dynamic as Viklický flings his elegant playing right to the ragged edge, calling back the theme as a reference point then ferociously cutting loose again. It is refined yet raw at the same time. Uhlíř's solo is a moment of rest by comparison, coming before the Trio hurtles the composition to resolution. This version of “Highlands, Lowlands” is possibly the most exciting piece of music recorded by a Czech jazz outfit in the last few years and is worth the price of the album in itself.

There is slower stuff on Live In Vienna too, including a beautifully expressive version of “Coral” (K. Jarrett) containing yet another great bass solo, and also the appropriately named “Longing” (E. Viklický). The latter contains delicate interplay between piano and legato bass while Tropp takes a back seat with his brushes.

“Wine, Oh Wine” (E. Viklický) speaks of one of the favourite pastimes of Moravia, and again the spirit of that part of the Czech Republic shines through strongly. It begins with sonorous chimes, in the same way that “Highlands Lowlands” does, but this time heads into a joyous romp via some teasing solo piano. There are comic bass slides from Uhlíř that always go down well with the crowd, while Tropp rides the metals and pushes from behind.

Laco Tropp's dynamic playing is worthy of special note. He was 68 when this album was recorded, and the events preceding the Vienna concert were hardly conducive to restful preparation. On “Wine, Oh Wine” he puts in a two minute drum solo, and not one of those gentle spacey ones either. He goes for the full works, assaulting the kit in a way that would be impressive for a man half his age.

Tropp is also working hard on “Buhaina” (R. Brown), the final track of the album and the final encore of the night. He grooves away tirelessly, the entire band going out with an air of triumph. This was a hot gig. Never mind being exhausting to play, this thing is exhausting to listen to, and that's without being 68 and having just endured an overnight transatlantic flight.

As well as the music this package also includes two other treats. Victor Verney's liner notes reveal a slice of Viklický's family history, and with it his enduring relationship with the city of Vienna. There is also the artwork, by Jiří Anderle, that makes one wish that CDs were sold with L.P.-sized covers.

Here at Prague Jazz we do not use a system of stars or marks out of ten, feeling that trying to crudely quantify something as complex as music is a pointless endeavor. However we do recommend, and we do fully recommend that you get Live In Vienna. Whether you are interested in Emil Viklický, Czech jazz, jazz with a national identity, or just piano jazz in general, this is one of the finest new recordings that you could purchase. Viklický has proven once again that he is a world-class pianist, composer and bandleader, as good as any and better than most. Their special gig has given us a special album.

If you would like to hear a free sample from the album as well as from other Emil Viklický albums then please visit his website.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

News: CD Presentation by Cyrille Oswald - The Wrong Present

We have just had this press release about saxophonist Cyrille Oswald. The video is well worth watching.

On March 25,26 and 27, Cyrille Oswald will be presenting his new CD for Animal Music at the Jazz Dock in Prague, with David Doruzka on guitar, Tomas Liska on bass and Dano Soltis on drums.

Part of the show will consist of one of Cyrille's new projects, the Beautyists, a group of musicians, poets and storytellers.

On Thursday 25th, the quartet will be extended by percussionist and metalsculptor Steve Hubback, bassist Rodrigo Reijers and storyteller Tom Zahn. On Friday, poet/singer Lucien Zell will join the group, and on Saturday, both Tom Zahn and Lucien Zell will be present. Together they tell spellbinding tales from places nearby and far away, and make musical imagery of original poetry. They create a boundless experience between various artforms, prepared and improvised. There, they integrate the worlds of word and sound.

You can watch an interview with Cyrille about the CD here:

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gig Review: Zuzana Lapčíková Kvintet

Jazz Dock
19th March 2010

Singer and virtuoso cimbalom player Zuzana Lapčíková is a big name in Czech music. She tours internationally, and her concert tours take in theatres, churches and other prestigious venues. As befits a purveyor of Moravian music her performances are not centred around the capital city, and so the chance to see her playing at Prague's Jazz Dock (as part of their Ethnojazz Festival) was a rare opportunity to see her in action on the Prague club scene.

Gigs at Jazz Dock are always approached with a degree of trepidation. Although it is in many ways a great club it does seem to attract the sort of people who think that it is acceptable to talk loudly and inconsiderately during performances. That is the problem when you go out of your way to make a venue accessible: the wrong sort of people access it.

Lapčíková's quintet consisted of herself, Ondrej Krajňák on piano, Kamil Slezák on drums, and a couple of well known players on the Prague scene: Rostislav Fraš on saxophones and Josef Fečo on upright bass. The front of the stage was dominated by Lapčíková's cimbalom, behind which she sat hammering away, singing using a headset microphone, and manipulating the pedal with her foot balanced on a stiletto heel.

The sound of the cimbalom is synonymous with the folk music of Central and Eastern Europe, and its integration within a typical modern jazz ensemble gave the unified outfit a wide range of moods and textures with which to play. There were moments that were very much Moravian folk, concentrating on voice and intertwined cimbalom and piano. At other moments it was pure instrumental jazz, with Lapčíková either playing percussively or temporarily sitting out altogether. The best moments were when the two extremes met in the middle: good hard jazz infused with the bitter-sweet lyricism and spirit of the folk songs. These provide strong melodies that can be liberally expanded and extemporised upon by jazzers hungry for new sources of inspiration.

The format of the concert was unusual. They played two long sets with just one interval, and both sets were performed as a single medley of pieces with virtually no gaps separating them. This made for an intense music experience that offered little compromise to the casual listener, especially one that was not familiar with any of the material. Strong glorious themes rose out of the more ethereal soundscapes, we flicked between folk and jazz and back again, and the magic happened. It was one of those times when the audience focused, the music unfolded, and for a few minutes the whole was so much more than the sum of the parts.

The second set, although musically as strong, didn't hit those same heights. Lapčíková sat out for the first two songs as the remainder of the band had a brief straight jazz workout. It was good stuff, but without the star of the show it didn't instantly grab the audience's attention. Those who tend to talk did so, and that changed the mood. The genie cannot be put back in the bottle, no matter how many ugly looks and clenched fists are shown to the room, and the focus was lost. The casuals sitting at the back became disengaged, and they had voices that carried. During the louder sections they were drowned out, but the softer folky moments were placed against a backdrop of rudeness.

The band played well, and of particular note were Fraš and Fečo. The former did some wonderful things on the soprano sax, and was especially prominent in the full-blown folk/jazz fusion passages. Fečo is a sensitive acoustic player but is also good with an electric bass, and although he didn't use that instrument during the gig some of his solos were packed with electric-style groove and fun.

With no announcing of titles, and possessing a limited knowledge of Moravian folk, it is hard to put together a setlist. However there were a couple of pieces that I recognised, and it was like meeting an old friend in a room full of strangers. Interesting and beautiful strangers who I would want to see again, but strangers still. “Vrať se milý” was particularly beautiful, and would have been the perfect finale to the concert if the louts at the back had shut up to let the magic happen once again.

It was a privilege to finally see Zuzana Lapčíková in action and her concerts are recommended to anyone interested in music with an authentic Czech voice. The fusion of local folk songs with jazz is a winning combination, as other Czech artists have often shown, and it is fascinating to watch the cimbalom being mastered so thoroughly. Her gliding of the hammers across the exposed strings unleashes a full and satisfying sound, and she plays with an obvious passion for, and understanding of, the instrument. Together with her singing she puts in a performance of total commitment, possessing a massive stage presence despite her diminutive stature.

Her decision to present the music in such an uncompromised form is worthy of respect, as is eschewing chatter and communicating purely through the performance. It is as though she expects the audience to show the same commitment in their listening as she does in her playing, and we here at Prague Jazz believe that is a good and reasonable expectation. However perhaps Jazz Dock is not always the place to find an audience that will unanimously agree with this sentiment. That is a shame.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Articles About Emil Viklický

Here at Prague Jazz we do say a lot of good things about Emil. Just in case some of our readers out there would like a second opinion here are a couple of articles (in English) about our favourite pianist:

First of all, here is a summary of his career from All About Jazz:

Respected US writer Victor Verney has recently penned a piece about Emil's latest activities. You can read it on Victor's own website here:

Happy reading!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

News: Emil Viklický Trio's New Live Album

Live in Vienna, the new live album from one of the true giants of Czech jazz, has been released!

We will of course be reviewing the album as soon as our copy arrives, but until then here is what Emil himself has to say about it:

"In the span of nine years my Trio issued 3 live recordings:

1/ Bratislava 2001 TRIO 01, recorded 2001, issued 2002 by ARTA
2/ Cookin´in Bonn, recorded 2004, issued 2005/6 by Dekkor Records, London
3/ Live in Vienna, recorded 2007, issued 2010, by Cube Métier

In Bratislava reviews said we were the best group of the festival. There is also a DVD issued [of the set]. Bonn was good as well, but I do feel that Vienna has the most raw energy. That is due to Laco Tropp's playing. Laco is terribly excellent on Live in Vienna.

He was 68 when [Live in Vienna was] recorded, but playing his "Philly Jo" style with incredible stamina and energy. Of course it is partly because of our short tour in Alabama. We had played a trio with Cleveland Eaton - bassist for Count Basie, Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock, Ramsay Lewis and founding member of Earth Wind and Fire!!! Cleve was so enthusiastic of Laco's groove that he offered him a position in his US band for a year. Laco's self confidence of course went up, and you can easily hear it on this CD."

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Czech Jazz Society Album Of 2009 Poll

The results of the Czech Jazz Society's poll to find the best album of 2009 have been released. The jury was comprised of over sixty musicians, jazz club owners, record company people, managers, publicists, and other such people on the Czech scene.

A summary of the results in English can be found here. This page also links to the individual comments of each member of the jury in Czech. Just copy and paste them into Google Translator if you are interested. It is not perfect but it gets the main points across.

Monday, March 1, 2010

GigTips: March 2010

For the first time in over six weeks Prague is not covered by a layer of ice. The skies seem bluer, the air feels warmer, and slowly but surely the greenery will come back to life. Spring may not yet have sprung but it is certainly coiled in anticipation! Now it is possible to walk down the street without risking breaking a bone or three it is time to go to some gigs. These are our tips for March...

There are two special blues gigs at the Palác Akropolis this month. Prague's very own Chicago Blues guitarist, Rene Trossman, will be joined by acclaimed Chicago Blues singer Deitra Farr on 18/3. On 4/3 there will be a benefit concert for Steve White featuring such Prague Jazz favourites as Radim Hladík, Vladimír Mišík, and Luboš Andršt. For those of you not familiar with Steve White, he is a US-based guitarist and singer currently undergoing treatment for cancer. The purpose of the concert is to raise money towards his treatment, so as well as being a great night of music it will also be for a very good cause.

If you want to see Luboš Andršt in action with his own band then AghaRTA Jazz Centrum is the place to go. He will be there on 9/3 and 10/3 with his jazzier outfit, the Luboš Andršt Group. His keyboard player, Ondřej Kabrna, will also be there on 31/3 fronting his Powerplay Trio.

The newest club on the scene, Jazz Time, is not good at getting the details of their gigs out: the sooner they get their website working fully the better it will be for all of us. They do seem to be attracting some of the big names in Czech jazz though. According to pianist Emil Viklický's website he will be playing there on 9/3 and 19/3 with his Trio. We can't give you any guarantees about the quality of the club at this stage, but we can give you a guarantee about the quality of the music if Emil is involved.

At U Malého Glena this month you can see many of the rising stars of the local scene. Guitarist Libor Šmoldas will be playing material from his new album, In New York On Time, every Tuesday night in March. The Infinite Quintet will be there on 6/3 and guitarist Petr Zelenka's new “Project Z” will be there on 11/3.

As ever this is just a small selection of the gigs that will be played in March here in Prague. Do remember to book ahead if you want to be sure of a good table. And please tell the venue that you saw the gig listed here. If you have any feedback or comments about the gigs that you have seen please feel free to contact us at Prague Jazz with your thoughts.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Rene Trossman & Deitra Farr

Prague's very own Chicago Bluesman, Rene Trossman, will be joined by acclaimed Chicago Blues singer Deitra Farr for some very special gigs in March. They will play at the Palác Akropolis in Prague on 18/3, as well as in Šumperk on 12/3 and in Ústí nad Labem on 16/3.

Deitra is the real deal, as for that matter is Rene. Come along and enjoy authentic Chicago Blues without the hassle of transatlantic flight!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

CD Review: Little Things

Jaromír Honzák Quintet
Animal Music / ANI013-2, 2009

Jaromír Honzák is arguably one of the overlooked stars of Czech jazz. When thinking of bassists or bandleaders his name rarely springs to the top of the pile, and yet there is no reason why it should not do so. He has put out five albums in his own name and he has regularly appeared on recordings by the Eben Brothers, Karel Růžička, Pavla Milcová and Iva Bittová. He studied at Berklee in 1989 and subsequently won several awards. He teaches in both Prague and Brno, and as well as doing session work he currently fronts two outfits: his more conventional Quartet/Quintet and the more modern Face Of The Bass. A busy guy then, and certainly worthy of recognition.

Little Things is the latest album from the Jaromír Honzák Quintet, released by Animal Music in 2009. His usual Quartet includes the two Poles Michal Tokaj (piano and Fender Rhodes) and Lukasz Zyta (drums), and the young Czech guitar star David Dorůžka. Here they are joined by American Chris Cheek on saxophones who, like Honzák and Dorůžka, also attended Berklee.

“Little Things” (J. Honzák) opens the album with a lilting piano introduction, underpinned by tinkling percussion, before bass and sax step in to fill out the sound. Although it is the latter that defines the shape there is a strong sense of melody in Honzák's playing. He is a measured and mature operator of his instrument. When he solos his fingers are capable of working into a fine flurry but still there is room within the phrasing for the music to breathe. Indeed the whole album has a strong organic feel about it, as if it was grown rather than recorded. Cheek dances around the top end, hitting a pleasing crescendo before the ensemble finishes off.

“The Cue” (J. Honzák) is a groovier track, with bubbling bass in the background that reflects Honzák's interest in modern forms of music. Complex rhythms and handclaps rattle away while the first solo is taken on Fender Rhodes, the second on sax. This most iconic of the electric pianos seems to be making a comeback in Czech jazz: the instrument used on Little Things was on loan from Beata Hlavenková! Dorůžka finally wakes up on this track, throwing in a clean, electric solo. It's a sweet sound, as opposed to a dirty blues note, with good technique.

“Friendly Space” (J. Honzák) begins with assorted percussive sounds and harsh noises. From this falls piano, and from this hangs a stepped melody led by sax and underpinned by bass played in unison. The weirdness and dissonance carries on underneath, even during the long bass and saxophone solos. Coming in at almost eleven minutes this is the longest track on the album but it is time well spent. The title is ironic. The space is uneasy rather than friendly, and you are thoroughly urged to listen to this track through headphones in total darkness.

“Clear” (J. Honzák) is a positive affair containing some pleasant electric guitar strumming and also a neat solo from Dorůžka. Zyta cuts loose towards the end. His presence on the album is more about subtlety than the wild stuff.

“Song for Albert” (D. Dorůžka) is the only composition on the album not written and arranged by the bassist. Dorůžka again takes a purposeful excursion during his solo spot. There is no doubting his ability but he is always so controlled, almost infuriatingly so. As good as his contributions are, and they are indeed good, it would be interesting to hear him really let rip like a maniac.

“Bystander's Story” (J. Honzák) features bowed bass and moody sax over choppy drums. The result is disjointed and a touch experimental while still being listenable. In contrast “Faraway” (J. Honzák) is a dreamy elegy of a piece, dripping in warmth and beauty.

The final track should win some sort of award for its title alone: “The Blues Of A String Hanging In The Wind” (J. Honzák). The string(s) in question appear to be the PKF String Quartet led by David Danel on 1st violin, and this piece is not what you might first expect. Solo piano explodes into a world of violent stabs and high tension, interspersed with mournful legato passages. The strings are fully integrated into the sound and not merely used as a backdrop. Cheek emerges and soars above before strings pick up and play out.

Little Things is a relatively short album, coming in at just over fifty minutes. Being honest there aren't many CD-filling recordings that contain more than fifty minutes of the really good stuff, and that is what we have here. Fifty minutes of really good stuff. The traditional combines with the unorthodox to produce an experience that keeps the listener's attention. Just when you think you know what this album is about it plays a joker like “Friendly Space” or the hanging string thing. For anyone who is interested in Czech jazz, but has yet to embrace the music vision of Jaromír Honzák, Little Things could be just the place to start.

Audio samples from this album can be found here.

Monday, February 8, 2010

News: Points Album Launch

Yet another new album is appearing on the Animal Music label, this time from Points. This quartet is made up of Luboš Soukup (tenor sax), Miroslav Hloucal (trumpet), Tomáš Hobzek (drums) and Tomáš Liška (double-bass).

The album will be launched at Jazz Dock with two special concerts on 12/2 and 13/2.

News: Najponk in London

This week our readers in London have a chance to sample some genuine Prague jazz without all the expensive and tiresome travelling that it would usually entail. Pianist Najponk will be appearing at the Pizza Express Jazz Club on 9/2, and also in the afternoon at The Vortex on 14/2. He should be performing with Alec Dankworth on bass and Matt Fishwick on drums at Pizza Express, and solo at The Vortex.

Alec is the son of British jazz legend Sir John Dankworth, who sadly passed away earlier this week. He will be widely missed.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Video Selection

The snow and ice that cover Prague's streets at the moment make every trip outside an adventure, so here's three videos that you can enjoy at home without risking a trip to the hospital with broken bones.

To kick things off we have a rehearsal video from The Wall 2009, a concert in which Czech musicians recreated the legendary Pink Floyd rock show. So why feature it in Prague Jazz? First of all there is a pretty hot saxophone solo from Petr Kalfus, who is now more usually seen playing with the Infinite Quintet. Secondly, it features singer Lada Soukupová who is not only excellent but is also more than capable of delivering a jazz tune or two. Thirdly, on keyboards we have Harry (son of Roger) Waters, who is establishing a name for himself as a jazz musician in his own right.

Next up, following our review of her Joy For Joel album, we have pianist Beata Hlavenková and band. Here they are performing "The Riddle" on Czech television:

Finally, because he's very cool and that's reason enough, here's Luboš Andršt with his Blues Band playing a nice bit of Hendrix:

Sunday, January 24, 2010

CD Review: Joy For Joel

Beata Hlavenková
Animal Music / ANI 011-2, 2009

The number of young musicians rising to prominence on the Czech scene is impressive. They have a lot to live up to, and with many of the great names of Czech jazz still going strong it is not easy for the newcomers. The old kings have not only retained their stunning technical skills but they also have a lifetime of experience and emotion to pour into their music. That is what makes it so rich. It is inevitable that those with a shorter lifetime have less to draw on, and sometimes that means their performances, while still very good, just don't have that magical special something that separates the very best from the merely better. Something in the depth, something in the tone. Perhaps it is just something in the way they sit at their instrument that conveys so much.

Beata Hlavenková is one of the few that truly bridge the divide. She is one of the younger generation – we have almost three decades to wait until she does her “60” gig – but her music betrays little inexperience. As a pianist the mechanical competence of her playing is strong, but it is more than that. Her compositions are interesting. You can never be sure which direction things are going to go in next. Her live performances can be a roller-coaster, some parts sweet and some parts edgy, uneasy listening for the attentive audient. In this context it is fair to say that we at PJHQ were excited at the prospect of her first solo album finally hitting the shelves.

Joy For Joel is not a typical Czech jazz album. For a start it was recorded in New Jersey, and it was recorded with mainly American musicians. Although Beata usually performs in Europe with more local names here we have Rich Perry on tenor saxophone, John Wikan on drums, Matt Clohesy on bass, and Dave Easley on pedal steel guitar. Regular collaborator Lenka Dusilová is however featured on the recording, providing vocals. Some interesting sounds are provided by Canadian Ingrid Jensen, who plays trumpet and flugelhorn as well as fiddling with electronics.

Joy For Joel is very much a big album, and very much a studio album. The larger band is used to create a larger soundscape; a world of varied textures and moods interwoven together. It does not have a “live in the studio feel” in the way some albums can do. You're never holding your breath, disbelief suspended, wondering if the whole thing is going to crash out of control. To borrow the analogy used so well by rock guitarist Robert Fripp, the album is the love letter whereas the gig is the hot date, and both have their place and their charm. And so here we have the love letter, carefully crafted and pleasingly delivered, and containing some fairly spicy bits for good measure.

Hlavenková is a pianist with a timeless sound. It is rich in melody, with a tempestuous rolling quality that is all about expression. She rarely goes for the obvious, and isn't afraid to leave space for others to occupy. A perfect example of this is the first track, “Jazvečík vo hmle za stĺpom” (B. Hlavenková) which opens with the full spectrum. There's brass from Jensen, a delicate vocal line from Dusilová, light and fluttery sax, the hum of pedal steel, and all are crafted together with piano. There's so much going on but still it feels airy, with Wikan restraining himself to gentle punctuation. Together they move, shift, push forward as a group. Perry's solo is fast but tasteful. There is a moment of peace as all subsides, bar the piano, heralding a tight, twangy excursion on pedal steel before the ensemble finale drives the track home.

“Rainy Afternoon” (B. Hlavenková) leans more on the piano, combining mesmerising patterns and strident chords with a twinkling melody. Clohesy steps out of the shadow, grooving away while Hlavenková moves through a variety of moods and explorations. Again a wordless legato vocal line (this time sung by the pianist herself) adds emphasis and an extra layer to the big finish. It is ambitious stuff.

Bullerbyn” (B. Hlavenková) is faster paced, bouncy, and a bit more conventional. Jensen plays with clarity, taking time between phrases. “Spring Story” (B. Hlavenková) on the other hand is eleven minutes of mini-epic. It is announced by an extended flourish of piano and voice. From there it is a journey of tension and release as varied ensemble playing builds up in pace and vigour, climaxing with a ferocious blast from Jensen and followed by a rapid diminishing to almost nothing. A repeat of the initial flourish follows, before again rising up joyfully. An unexpected but perfectly placed pedal steel solo adds the extra dimension.

There are other notable compositions on the album, including “The Riddle” (B. Hlavenková) and “4 Days” (B. Hlavenková). The former utilises electronic distortions to create a warped environment (dig the evil piano!), and the frantic beat even hints at modern dance music.

The album finishes with “A Little Something” (B. Hlavenková), the shortest track on the recording, which takes a simple cascading phrase and rides it hard. There are crazy moments of disorder that make it all the more lovely when the melody kicks back in.

If you're going to do a full-on studio album you might as well use everything at your disposal. Joy For Joel is complex, contemporary, well structured, and through the use of pedal steel and electronics it has an uncliched sound. At its core is strong writing and arranging, and there is little doubt that these compositions will also work with a smaller outfit in a live setting.

Czech jazz piano does have many kings. Is it now time to crown a queen?

A full track listing and free audio samples can be found on the Animal Music website.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Infinite Quintet on YouTube

Given that their album was reviewed on Prague Jazz last month, and that they are playing in Prague in January (see the last GigTips for details), here are a few video clips of the very promising Infinite Quintet.

On Czech television:

At Reduta:

In Berlin:

News: New Prague Club

A new jazz club has just appeared on the Prague scene, called Jazz Time. Their website,, is still under construction but it does contain a link to their (currently active) Facebook page.

We really don't know anything about this place yet, but hope to drop in and take a look around soon. More details then...